Summer time in western countries was rainy season in Southeast Asia. For the residents of these countries, this meant relief from the intense daily heat, flourishing crops and vegetation, and excusing themselves from driving their motorbikes through the rain whenever possible. But for unexpected and not-so-prepared backpacking travelers, this could prove to be a derailment of plans. And such was the luck for backpackers Darryl and Sabrina Hoshkin. This young, adventurous couple had decided to go completely off the grid, to take in the beauty of Southeast Asia with zero technology. No phones, no GPS, no wifi. Just a paper map, backpacks, and their motorbikes.
They had been having a fabulous time moving through the mountains and the villages far outside of the cities at their own pace, undistracted by social media or low battery charges. As their motorbikes puttered along the dirt and rock roads, the Hoshkins played “I Spy” with the various beauties of the land, such as water buffalo and durian fruit. Clouds covered the sky, shielding their eyes from the sun's rays and their skin from horrendous sunburn. However, in their quest of exploring the mountainous area, they seemed to have lost where exactly they were on the map. And with no phones, Google Maps would prove to be even less helpful than usual.
As they puttered their motorbikes through the mountains, the clouds began to yield to the built-up rain upon the palm trees and fruit vines. The further they drove, the more the rain picked up as the sun began to set. Before they knew it, the sunlight was completely lost and the rain was pouring down onto the red dirt roads, transforming them into red mud roads. It became more and more difficult to steer the motorbikes without fear of driving off into a ditch or off a cliff.
“I don't think this rain is going to let up any time soon. We've got to stop somewhere. We can't keep trying to drive through this!” Sabrina yelled over the thunderous downpour to Darryl.
“Let's see if we can find a house or something up ahead!” Her husband called back. They continued their slow and careful drive for several minutes before coming up on some sort of small shack. It looked small and parts of it seemed to falling down, but it did look habitable. And it appeared that it was indeed inhabited judging by the small fire that was being shielded from the rain by random pieces of metal fashioned together in a crude yet ingenious way. “Let's see if maybe these people would let us wait out the rain in their house!” Darryl called out his suggestion.
“So we're just going to go up to a complete stranger's house, in the night, in the middle of nowhere, knock on the door, and say 'Hey! Can we stay here for a while, even though you have no idea who we are and if we are here to kill or rob you?' and assume they would have no issue with that?” was Sabrina's hesitant response.
Darryl pulled his bike to a stop and gestured to the surroundings. “Look around. Do you have any better ideas?”
Parking her bike next to his, Sabrina admitted defeat. “No. Let's just hope they know how to speak English. Otherwise, we're pretty much doomed,” she said as she hopped off her bike.
Tentatively, the couple approached the small house surrounded by brush and palm trees. They exchanged looks as Darryl knocked on the door. Sabrina gulped in nervousness as the door creaked open. A small woman who appeared to be in her 50s answered the door and said something in her native language which the Hoshkins didn't understand.
“Uh, hello. Um, I'm Darryl and this,” gesturing to his wife, “is my wife Sabrina. We are travelers but we are lost and the rain is so bad we can't drive. We were wondering if we could wait here for a little bit for the rain to stop. Would that be alright?”
The little woman smiled big at the couple. “Oh, English! How are you? Did you eat?”
The Hoshkins were happy to hear English but a bit taken aback by her gusto in asking them about food. “Uh...we're good. We're fine, just a little wet. And no, we haven't eaten dinner yet, but we aren't super hungry right now. We just want to dry off a little,” Sabrina answered, assuming the lady would understand.
But apparently the woman did not understand completely. “Ah, sorry, no English, no English,” she replied. “You eat? You eat?” she continued to question.
Darryl tried waving his hands in a symbolic manner. “No, no eat. That's ok. No eat.” But it did not stop the woman from pulling them both by the hand into the house and to their small table. The whole family looked wide-eyed at their new dinner guest: the woman's husband who had just brought in some smoked meat from the shielded fire outside, a boy and girl who were around 4 years-old who had been playing with some sticks, and a baby sitting in a hand-fashioned swing made with fabric strips attached to a chair to keep him upright. The mother began to quickly speak in their tongue and gesturing to the Hoshkins, who could only guess at what was being said about themselves. But it must have been all good things because every member of the family began to smile at the couple. As the parents became busy with finishing the food preparations, the Hoshkins had their own pow-wow in English.
“I just remembered something that I read on one of those travel blogs about Southeast Asia language and culture,” Sabrina started to explain. “It said that while Westerns usually greet each other with 'Hello, how are you?,' in Asian cultures they usually greet each other with 'Hello, have you eaten yet?' It's their way of showing they care, by making sure you're fed and if you're not, they will probably try to feed you.”
Darryl began to understand what was happening. “So because they care about us, total strangers who just showed up on their porch in the pouring rain, they're about to feed us dinner?”
“I think that pretty much sums up what's going on. Although since I have no idea what they're saying, I can't tell you for sure.”
“Google Translate would be great right now if we hadn't decided to not bring phones on this trip.”
Sabrina gave him a skeptical look. “Would it, though? Or would it just mistranslate things and get us a new pet dog instead of a hot dog again?”
“I think you should let that one go. Martin turned out to be a good dog.”
Just then the woman came and pulled them by the hand again to the table and gestured for them to sit down. As they did, she placed a number of small dishes on the table. Some were identifiable, such as steamed rice and bananas. Others the Hoshkins had no idea how to identify before consuming it. There were some meat and vegetables, and a dish of what appeared to be fried bugs.
“Kin, kin, kin!” the woman said, putting her hand to her mouth. “Eat!”
The Hoshkins looked at each other, wondering what they should do. They really didn't want to eat the food as they didn't know how their stomachs would handle it, but they also didn't want to appear rude to their hosts. They also realized this might be all the food this family had, and there was hardly enough to go around. The couple mentally agreed to eat a little bit of what they could for their hosts.
Sabrina ate some rice and Darryl ate some bananas, hoping that would be enough to satisfy their hosts, but it wasn't. They kept pushing the different dishes towards them and gesturing to eat, “Kin, kin, kin!” Before they knew it, Sabrina was eating the unidentifiable meat and Darryl ate a small handful of fried bugs. They didn't taste quite as bad as the Hoshkins had thought they would, but the texture definitely would take some getting used to. The children even applauded them as they dutifully ate their food. Despite the strangeness of the new food, Darryl and Sabrina couldn't help but smile, not because of the food but because of the company.
After dinner, the children wanted to play with their new friends, and their new friends could not say no. The kids didn't speak any English and the Hoshkins didn't speak their language, but that didn't stop them from having the time of their life. Eventually everyone became tired and fell asleep in random places on the floor. Even though there were no pillows or blankets and the floor was solid concrete, Darryl and Sabrina fell fast asleep surrounded by their new friends.
Morning came quickly and they knew it was time to say goodbye. But the Hoshkins didn't want to leave. As they wiped the rain off their motorbikes, they felt truly sad to leave the family who had taken them in as if they were family also. They hugged them all goodbye and even though they didn't know how to say it with words they could understand, they told them thank you and how much they would miss them through whatever actions they could think of.
As they drove away, they pondered how someone can form such a relationship with a person when they can't speak the same language and how you can display such care for someone just by feeding them. Maybe it was something that their Western minds didn't understand yet, but it was one of the reasons they would hold Southeast Asia in their hearts for forever.